On this episode of Connected Nation, we talk with three Connected Nation communications team members: our Senior Communication Specialist, Lily McCoy; Senior Marketing Specialist, Ashley Pino; and Communications Social Media Specialist, Grant Ahlbrand.
Get a behind-the-scenes look into how the communications staff spreads the word about CN's varied work – including it’s on-the-ground programs and projects that are tackling digital inequities. We’ll also look back on the greatest challenges and victories of 2023 when it comes to the team’s work within the broadband space.
Related links -
Connected Nation website - https://connectednation.org/
Jessica Denson (00:07):
This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods. On today's podcast, I'm doing something a little different. I'm bringing in the award-winning communications team that works behind the scenes daily to spread the word about connected nation's varied work, including its on the ground programs and projects that are tackling digital inequities. Together we'll look back on the greatest challenges of the victories of 2023 when it comes to our team's work within the broadband space. I'm Jessica Sson and this is Connected Nation. I'm Jessica sson, and today I've got my team with me, the award-winning connected Nation communications team, which is made up of Lily McCoy, who is the senior communications specialist, Ashley Pino, who's the senior marketing specialist, and Grant Allbrand, who is our social media specialist. Welcome everyone.
Lily McCoy (01:08):
Jessica Denson (01:11):
Hello. I don't want anyone to miss that I call the team award-winning this year, PR News named the team the 2023 Digital Team of the year in the National Digital Awards, which is a big deal. The three here who make up the team for communications have done incredible stuff. They've collectively won nearly a dozen telling communicators awards in just the last two years for work ranging from social media and videos to more traditional marketing pieces. So it's not just lip service. When I say that I am proud of the team because obviously as director of communications, I lead it, but these three do incredible work, so I'm excited to have you three each today. So let's get down to the discussion. I want to give our audience an idea of who each of you are and where you're located because we are a fully remote team. Let's begin with you, Lily. Share a little bit of your background and where you're based.
Lily McCoy (02:03):
Yeah. Hi guys. Just wanted to give a little starter that I'm a little bit sick, so if I sound a little nasally, that's why. So I'm Lily McCoy and I went to Western Kentucky University and graduated in 2019 with a corporate and organizational communications degree. It was actually when I was at WKU, is when I first heard about Connected Nation. I saw they were taking applications for communications interns and decided to apply locally, and I'm lucky I got to interview and have a great conversation with you, Jessica, our communications director, and I got the job. So that was the back in, I think, April, 2018. So I've been at Connected Nation now for a little bit over, a little bit over five and a half years, and right now I currently live in Nashville, Tennessee with my roommate Connor, and we have three-year-old American cocker spaniel named Theo, and he is just the cutest. He brightens up my workday every day.
Jessica Denson (03:06):
He's adorable. I love it when we actually get to see him. What's your favorite thing to do within the communications work that we do together? Just whatever answer you want to get for that.
Lily McCoy (03:16):
Yeah, there's a lot of different areas that I really enjoy. I really just enjoy working with the team a lot, but probably my favorite thing we do is actually this podcast. I never thought I would be able to work on editing and producing a podcast. I thought it was always really neat, and as a lot of the guests know that Jessica's always the host and I have a front seat to the recordings, and it's really interesting to hear all of the awesome and amazing guests and their backgrounds and the knowledge of broadband and their organizations,
Jessica Denson (03:50):
And you do a great job of making me sound better than I do on the first go arounds. Thank you, Lily. All right, let's move now to Ashley. Ashley is a little further north. Why don't you do the same Ashley and share a little bit of your background and where you're based.
Ashley Pino (04:04):
Sure. I am based about an hour north of Pittsburgh, so I'm holding down western Pennsylvania over here, which the best way to describe it is it is overcast. 90% of the time we don't see a ton of sun, and I can say that because I actually lived in Kentucky for a couple years where it was sunny and warm all the time. So it's kind of miserable weather-wise where we live, but it is what we call Yinzer country, a lot of black and gold sports, Steelers, penguins, those are the most important things to people out here. And I actually been at Connected Nation about two and a half years. I have an undergrad in psychology from Penn State Baron, which is Division III School in Erie. Played volleyball there for four years, and then my dad at some point said, and what are you going to do with a psychology degree? To which at about 19 years old, my answer was, I don't know. It's just very interesting. I didn't really have a plan as to what I was going to do with it and just knew that I'd have to go back to get more schooling. So I did end up after I got married, going and getting my master's in marketing from the University of Cincinnati, which I can say now the psychology background fits very well with a marketing degree.
I have to understand people in order to sell to them. So that is a little bit about me. I actually have two kids, 15 and 13. My son Tyson is 15. He's a 10th grader, and my son Addison is 13. She's an eighth grader. I married my high school sweetheart who I started dating at 16 years old, and I'm lucky to say that he is also my coworker because he works remotely as well. So it's both a blessing and sometimes a negative thing when we both have lots going on and lots of calls, and that's about it for me. My life has just spent, my kids play a ton of sports, so between the two of them, they're on seven different teams for five different sports. That is mostly what we do now running around.
Jessica Denson (06:03):
Yeah, I can imagine if they're playing that many sports. So what for you is your favorite thing within the communications work that we do together?
Ashley Pino (06:11):
Much like Lily, I'll say. I mean my number one thing is our team. I think they're fun. You guys are the best. It's so easy to work with you and learn, but as an actual task, I love coming up with marketing plans and marketing strategies. I love looking into metrics, so where we place something in an email or what time it goes out on social media, does it work? Are people reading it? Are they clicking on it? I love a lot of the strategical stuff that goes behind all the communications.
Jessica Denson (06:42):
And you have a master's in marketing, right? Do I have that right? I do, I do. Yeah, so you definitely know what you're talking about. You schooled us a bit on some of that stuff. Of course. Last but not least, we have Grant Al Brandand and Grant, why don't you share a little bit of your background and where you're based right now?
Grant Ahlbrand (06:59):
Yeah, I don't want to sound repetitive, but my story is quite similar to Lily's. I'm also a Hill Topper. I'm a 2023 graduate of Western Kentucky University. Just like Lily, during my senior year, I did some research about internships and marketing, and I came across Connected Nation, like her story. I was interviewed by Lily and then I met with both Lily and Jessica and I luckily got the job. So ever since then, I stayed on for the summer before my senior year of college. And then during the entirety of my senior year, I was a communications intern. And then following my graduation I went. So just a little bit about me. I still live in Bowling Green. I'm planning on moving this coming summer. Not really sure where yet, but I guess that's the beauty of working from home and being young and trying to figure out where are we going to go. But yeah, more about me, not to sound like an average 22-year-old guy, but I love sports. I like hanging out with my friends, I love movies. I love history just to run this into my work life. I see my interest in my personal life, that kind of coincide with my interest in work life. I like having my hands in a lot of different pots. I like trying new things. I like taking on new challenges or learning about something new. So yeah, that's pretty much all about me personally
Jessica Denson (08:30):
And as our newest member of the team. You do fantastic work. We love having you on. Kayla, you off the hook. What's your favorite thing though that you do in the communications work that we do together?
Grant Ahlbrand (08:42):
I'd say my favorite aspect of working in communications is the freedom of creativity. So whether it's for me, I love making graphics, I love trying to figure out different ways to send our messages across to various different age groups, different communities, and figuring out the unique ways to how we're going to package it and how we're going to message it. So whether if that's a graphic that pops or a graphic that's subtle and it's the information across or a graphic that contains a lot of text or just a lot of information. So that's kind of my main thing, working with the team, trying to figure out what will work best in which environment. My favorite part is just being creative
Jessica Denson (09:26):
And if our audience has seen those great graphics on the podcast work. Just for background on me, I'm based in the middle of the team geographically. I live and work in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby. I went to school for broadcast journalism, graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma. I was a journalist for about 20 years and I've worked in nonprofit communications off and on, leaving journalism, going back to journalism, that kind of thing. I've won two Emmys, a Murrow, several Associated Press Awards, society, professional Journalism Awards, plus the comms awards that we mentioned earlier. So we really put an emphasis on doing work that is recognized by our peers. Yes, it's great to win awards, but knowing that others in our industries think that our work is great, for me, that is the badge of honor. But the best thing about me is I have three cats and I drive everybody crazy with stupid cat stories. In fact, this morning my tree was sideways, I was late to a meeting, I was trying to upright it. Alright, let's give our audience some real good information that they could use whether they're nonprofit for-profit, whatever. Give 'em a little bit of our wisdom. So Lily, share some of the details on the programs you work on and your approach to comms with those.
Lily McCoy (10:44):
So as a communications professional and at our organization, we kind of have a hand in everything, but the few things that I kind of spearhead is we have an internship program for communications interns, and this year as of 2023, this is our second go around at it. Usually starting in the summer or the fall, we take on about two to three interns and we teach them about communications in the field and at our organization and they also get real life work experience, which is nice for them. I know Grant and I appreciate that. And as I mentioned before, I started as an intern. So that's what really makes that program close to my heart. My more recent project that I've been working on is we have been working with UEN, the Utah Education Network. We work with them on a statewide technology inventory. So that is where about a hundred percent, actually it is a hundred percent of public and charter schools partake in an inventory and then our research team releases the report, which helps all these schools in many areas like network accessibility, updating devices and in out of the classroom.
So what my part in that program is as a communications professional is I write impact stories about a few of the schools that take part in the survey. I interview IT directors, teachers, students, and they get to tell me about their story and about technology within their schools. And when we did this back in 2020, it was really interesting to hear how things changed when Covid happened and how different things are now with technology, how it's just so much implemented in their schools. And it's really interesting to be able to hear their stories and write up pieces that many people can read and other schools, not just around Utah, but I think really around the country can relate to and for how I approach my work. I was thinking about this one, how I really approach my work is kind of like a project blocking system in my own way. It helps me prioritize deadlines and how to get things done. So for example, I'll set a timer for about two hours in the morning to focus on just my Utah things to make sure I get all of those deadlines and projects done. And then maybe the next two hours I'll do my daily social media or newsletters and so on and so forth for the rest of my project. So really just prioritizing it by time is what really helps me.
Jessica Denson (13:12):
That's a good idea actually. Thanks. I need to do more of that. I should mention that our team is supported by two incredible interns. Do you want to mention them, Lily, since she needs program?
Lily McCoy (13:22):
Yeah, our two interns right now are Lauren Barry and Myron Bobrick Ozaki. They're amazing and they're fantastic. They help us with social media and writing and a lot of other projects. And what I love about them is they're so eager to learn, not just in communications roles, but how nonprofit works and they've been an amazing addition to the team.
Jessica Denson (13:47):
They definitely help support us. There's a lot of work to be done, so it's nice to have them. So good job on handling them and Lauren and Myron when you listen to this, we just appreciate you very much. So Ashley, let's turn to you now. Your focus is on one of Connected Nation's newest programs in 2023, which has seen a lot of success. So talk a little bit about your work on that and how you approach what you do.
Ashley Pino (14:15):
Absolutely. So much like Lily, we all have done a little bit of everything here, but in the past about year and a half, my focus has been on our digital literacy programs and the main two are teens Teach Tech in the digital literacy and learning program. In brief, we are working on educating adults that don't necessarily feel that they have digital skills to help them thrive, to help them succeed. Sometimes do things as simple as access telehealth or apply for a job. That's the goal of these two programs. The difference with the Teens Teach Tech program is that we have groups of teenagers and mentors in 17 states across the country that are handling the training. They are the ones getting people together, inviting them, coming up with the best locations and the best ways to reach them, and they're teaching them on topics that are important for them to know.
The other program is our staff runs. So we've also traveled, we have staff all over the country that have been going to Texas and Michigan and Chicago everywhere to train adults in places that need it as well. So same type of content, cybersecurity, computer basics, internet basics, but with just different people teaching the classes. I have had the opportunity to be on the sense the ground floor with both projects. And that has been fun because even with teens Teach Tech, it's been development of a brand, a logo, an Instagram presence, which if you're listening, go follow us teens, teach Tech on Instagram.
Jessica Denson (15:44):
Good job. Ashley.
Ashley Pino (15:45):
I assure you the content is fun and exciting since I spent a lot of time doing that. But it's really both projects have really opened my eyes to what the needs are. I think that sometimes it's not often talked about. Sometimes it's shameful to talk about, but there is a need there. And even something as simple as anyone that's listening, if you have a parent or a grandparent that ever calls you and says, I can't figure out how to do this, how do I do this? And maybe sometimes if you're like me, it's okay, I've told you, but here I go, explain it again and I'll speak of someone here who's now nearly middle aged and two teenagers. There's a lot of things they teach me still that I don't necessarily know. So I think the programs have been so successful because of the approach, how they're being delivered, how social media and how video conferencing are being used to spread the word, but also because the need is still there. There is still a large population of people who just aren't fortunate enough to know what maybe you or I know and how to do it on a computer.
Jessica Denson (17:00):
Awesome. And I love teens Teach Tech. It's a good program. It really approaches things in a good way and gets teens involved. So I encourage everybody to go check out the Instagram. As Ashley said, I really like with the team, I like to try to give each member of our team full-time member something of Focus, but also we all contribute to social media. We all contribute to the newsletters, we all contribute to different things. And Grant, when he came on board, I had that same plan, but really what's ended up happening just because of the way that the world has gone in 2023 is you've become kind of my catchall grant where you really tackle anything I throw at you. So share a little bit about what you'd like to share about what you're working on and your approach to work.
Grant Ahlbrand (17:52):
So yeah, I think one of the interesting things about my position and my perspective coming into work for Connected Nation was when I came in I had a pretty vague idea of everything Connected Nation did because all of our teams are so productive and they go out and do so much good work, it's so hard to take it all in and to know everything about what they're doing. So I'd say the unique position that I'm in is since I'm working on newsletters, I'm making graphics, editing podcasts and doing social media. Let's say for example, Ashley and the teams teach tech team go out and do amazing work for two weeks. I'm not exactly on the ground knowing exactly everything they're doing, but they'll send me a writeup and a summary. And so I can use my perspective as someone who wants to learn more about the program and I can use that in writing, whether it's a blog or in a newsletter to package the information in a very, how do I say it, package the information in a form that is very digestible and gets the point across instead of a lot of jargon that they might not be able to understand so quick.
So I kind of do the same thing with the DLL program Connected and Digital Works. I currently work on the Digital Works newsletter, the connected newsletter, and the Connected Nation Texas newsletter for all that. For example, I'm not from Texas, I don't live in Texas and I'm not working with the DLL team every day. But since I can read that information and digest it, I can use that as someone who's not super, super hands-on with the program to get it across to people who aren't for sure what they do.
Jessica Denson (19:42):
I like that. I like that approach because it's important to look at it from an audience perspective.
Grant Ahlbrand (19:48):
Yeah, I think that is one thing that has really helped me. It comes across, there were times when I first started, I was like, I don't want to feel like I'm lost here. I don't want to feel like I don't know everything, but I kind of have taken it and used it to the advantage of at least a 22-year-old who might not be totally knowledgeable on everything that we do.
Jessica Denson (20:08):
Well, you do a fantastic job. So I don't want anybody to think to hold your age or your newness against you because you really are very talented. I'd like to hear from each of you, what are some of the challenges to handling comms for a non-traditional nonprofit like Connected Nation? And what I mean by a non-traditional nonprofit for our audience sake is we don't save puppies and kittens, we don't help. Kids are sick. That traditional nonprofit, when you think of a nonprofit that's easily marketable with those kinds of things, we deal in the broadband space. So messaging for Connected Nation could be a little bit more of a challenge because we do want to still have the human face. We are trying to help people. So I'd like each of you, whether it's just a one word thing or whatever you'd like to share, to share what challenges there are to handling comms for a non-traditional nonprofit. So we'll begin with you Grant, since you were just up.
Grant Ahlbrand (21:09):
Yeah, I would say one of the main challenges is the messaging because for example, you heard the work that Lily does in Utah and the work that Ashley does with teens teach tech. Those are two very different ways to message. You're either talking to say older people or you're talking to teenagers or you're talking to teachers. So our position as communications people is how do I communicate our goals, our projects, and our initiatives most effectively to people of different communities, different ages and different walks of life in the United States.
Jessica Denson (21:44):
And what about you, Lily? How would you answer that question?
Lily McCoy (21:48):
Yeah, I see it as one challenge I've seen is kind of like you were saying, getting people to understand that we're helping all people of this country, not just a certain demographic. We're helping the people of this country get connected to broadband and also just to help them understand the laws and the government funding so that they can take advantage of opportunities they might have no idea about. You don't see traditional advertisements for what we do on tv, so we have to get creative on how we reach out to our audience. And how Grant was saying about the messaging is that we help people in a lot of different areas and not just in broadband deployment. As Ashley said, we help them in digital literacy, we help people fund remote jobs, and we also help state government broadband offices figure out their funding and the challenge process. So it is a challenge to get everyone to understand that we are trying to help everyone here and that not just a certain area of people.
Jessica Denson (22:50):
Good answer. And Ashley, how would you answer that same question?
Ashley Pino (22:55):
So agreeing with Lily and Grant both. I would add a couple things. The first one being just budget and manpower, right? Because a lot of times we're competing for attention from people who have someone dedicated to just emails. So I think that's the first thing is that while we all are able to do a lot of things and we are really awesome at it, it doesn't mean that we are necessarily schooled or educated or the best person at a specific task. We have to learn how to do everything but more, I think it's that there's no instant gratification, and I think those that are selling something that you would see on Facebook, click an ad purchase, it's a lot easier to measure your success. Oh, my ad on Facebook brought in 10,000 widgets. I can't believe I'm using that example, but that's a good one. Whereas we often are going for, we have to go for brand awareness or we are trying to, especially with a program like Teens Teach Tech, we're not just asking people to click and buy. We need them to click read about it and then decide that they're going to be a mentor, they're going to commit their time for free. They're going to sign up and do the paperwork to be a part of a program. And I think that is a lot harder to measure or to sometimes see the success from because it's not instant.
Jessica Denson (24:14):
Oh, really good points. All of that. Yeah, I'd love a for-profit budget for marketing. That'd be amazing. What are some of, I'd like to also another question for all three of you. What are some of your go-to communications or marketing tactics, things that could really help other nonprofits perhaps? Ashley, you get to go first this time.
Ashley Pino (24:36):
I'm going to go with a know your audience. Just what Grant said, you really have to understand who it is you're trying to speak to, market to sell to. You have to understand they're not all the same and they all don't get their information from the same places, the same sources. But I think really knowing what your strengths are as a person and knowing what your teammates or what you need to outsource, I think that we do a really great job of that. There are a million things that I'm not the greatest at, but Lily and Grant and you, Jess are. And I think that knowing it's okay, I don't need to be the best at this specific thing. That's why our team is so awesome is because we're able to pass off or rely on each other. And so we have the best parts of all of us contributing.
Jessica Denson (25:20):
We do have an awesome team. I can't help it. I brag about y'all all the time. Grant, same question to you.
Grant Ahlbrand (25:29):
Yeah, I'd say my go-to communications tactic is kind of along the same theme as what I was talking about earlier. I had an old basketball coach who whenever you handle a ball, he would always say the KISS method, keep it simple, stupid, because there are a lot of things with broadband for example, that the average person just seems like a different language and it seems very confusing. So the interesting way to talk about it to someone is kind of just get across what it does for them. So for example, with the A CP program, if you just send them a link, they're going to go to a government website that has a bunch of words, a bunch of long a tracks of information, and they can get lost real easily. So if you can just put up on a graphic, the A CP program can save your family money on your monthly internet bill, then that kind of can get through to them a lot easier. Especially with other nonprofits, there can be information that can overload and if you take that out and you just give it to 'em plainly, this is how we can help you. We need your impact, we need your feedback. That's pretty much my main communication tactic.
Jessica Denson (26:48):
Yeah, those are good. That's good as well. I know there's no wrong answer with you guys because I've seen your work in action and seen the metrics and seen it be effective. And Lily, your turn.
Lily McCoy (27:02):
Yeah, so of course I think knowing your audience, like Ashley said, is the best. Another tactic that I've really used a lot and that I've learned from being at Connected Nation is visuals. I know in communications it's a lot of words and talking, but also visuals and captivating your audience that way. And we've really implemented more graphics into every piece of communication we've been putting out there recently. Like Grant creates a podcast graphics, Ashley's been awesome at making reels, and we always try to use a photo with either every social media post or every blog or press release we put out there. Because today sometimes we get in that jam where we see so many words, you don't take the time to really see what you're reading, but some people will be caught by a captivating photo or graphic and that will get that person in there to really want to read your information and how we're trying to spread our mission.
Jessica Denson (27:59):
And I know you each have kind of given a little bit of advice in the answer that you just gave, but would there be anything else that you would offer other organizations that are trying to spread the word about their brand with limited resources often? Lily, you can start.
Lily McCoy (28:14):
Yeah, my advice would be don't be afraid to try new things and new marketing tactics today. There are so many new marketing and communication ideas that can be explored and it never hurts to try a different way to spread the mission or the word of your organization.
Jessica Denson (28:32):
Yeah, I love that because I try to make it clear that it's okay to make a mistake. It's okay to try something that doesn't work. That's how we grow and become a better team. What about for you, grant?
Grant Ahlbrand (28:44):
Yeah, I think especially in 2023 as an organization, the most important thing is everyone has a phone. Everyone has a Twitter account, a Facebook account, a LinkedIn account, and more than anything else, people want to be a part of the conversation. People want to feel as if their impact is being felt and used to improve whatever program or organization that they might follow. So I think any way you can get the feedback and get the direct conversation as the organization from either your followers, people who may be involved with your program, I know the Texas programs and especially teens Teach Tech and DLL do that very well to where they can, whether it's on social media, email or just feedback forms where you can allow the people that you're targeting to be a part of the conversation that only improves their experience and also your organization as a whole.
Jessica Denson (29:39):
Another good answer, Ashley turn,
Ashley Pino (29:44):
Without repeating everything that everybody already said, I'm going to stick to my answer, which is not just know your brand, but know your audience and you don't have to touch everybody. Your brand doesn't have to be relevant to everyone really niching down and getting it to where you're speaking to your people in a language, in a place that is relevant to them. That's the most important thing you're going to have a lot more impact on maybe a small group, but a group that is really, really into whatever it is, nonprofit or your brand is. That's my recommendation.
Jessica Denson (30:22):
All good recommendations. I hope everybody at home's taking notes. If not, you can rewind, say that's possible. I have something specific for each one of you, Ashley. There's a lot of talk about AI and how it impacts communications and marketing, and I know you've been exploring this tech as you write stuff and you do things. Any thoughts you'd share on how you're using it?
Ashley Pino (30:46):
So I often don't always trust myself when it comes to writing something that fits Twitter or Instagram. So I will use it sometimes just to give me a thought starter or to maybe just double check something that I wrote to make sure that it flows nicely. But I think more than anything, what I've enjoyed when I do use it is it gives me really awesome emojis to use in my posts and I don't have to go looking for them and they're fun. And to Lily's point, anything that you can add that's kind of more graphically pleasing or just fun to look at and more conversational, I think you're more likely to have people engaging. That's what it's been helping me with.
Jessica Denson (31:30):
Great. I didn't know that about the emoticons or the emojis. I'll have to check that. Grant, you're the newest to our team. And you graduated just last year as we talked about earlier. What do you feel is important to understand and remember about younger generations and communicating with them? That's a big ass, whatever you'd like to share.
Grant Ahlbrand (31:49):
Yeah, I think for better or for worse, my age group, which is about early twenties and then younger, is we grew up with the internet. We grew up, like I said, for better or for worse, but we grew up on Instagram, we grew up on TikTok, on Facebook, on Twitter all the time. So we are very versed in the way that corporations, organizations or any kind of so to speak, organize higher power will communicate with us. And I think I mentioned it earlier, but keeping it simple because we can kind of see through the, let's say corporate jargon and the organizational messaging. So communicating with younger generations simply comes down to how do I get my message onto this person's phone, this person's timeline, and it be communicated to them in the easiest way possible. Because like you say with say, older generations, you're talking to them in person, they can see past the say the typical sale, the typical, how do I get my pitch across the way that older people can do that maybe at the car lot or anything like that, we can do that online. So keeping it simple and getting your messaging across to younger generations in the most honest, straightforward way, I feel like is the most effective way to go about it.
Jessica Denson (33:17):
Yeah, I was going to ask, do you mean being very genuine, right, and real about what you're saying?
Grant Ahlbrand (33:23):
That's the same way as say my dad goes to the car lot and he is getting me a car and the salesman comes up to him and gives him a whole spiel about a car. The way that our younger generation missed out on that, just the person to person contact and conversation, we can do that online. So that's the main sticking point between our generation and the older ones.
Jessica Denson (33:47):
That's interesting. And you're lucky if you've haven't had to go onto a car lot because that's horrible. Lily, you've been with the team the longest besides me, you're our first new team member. So what are some challenges and opportunities on the comms front that you've seen over the years in your opinion for Connected Nation and nonprofits?
Lily McCoy (34:08):
Yeah, I don't know if this is necessarily a challenge, but being with CN and being a communications professional, I think you have to be able to adjust your style of working depending on the department or the group of people you're working with. For us, we have different teams and different coworkers and different teams. So maybe the Digital Works team, they're good to meet just once a month because that program might not need as much marketing communications. And then there's other teams like our coworkers who work with at t who maybe want to meet once a week because that project is hitting hard right now and we have a lot of stuff going out. So you have to be flexible to work with different groups of people, but I also really enjoy that about our organization because you get the opportunity to get to know and somewhat bond with the employees and the different departments.
Jessica Denson (35:00):
Love that. Alright, so I only have two more questions then you guys, I'll let you go for the day. I know we're all really busy. What do you each feel was a victory, so to speak for you? A moment where your work really hit the mark this year and what was it, Lily, you can begin
Lily McCoy (35:19):
A big victory for me, and I've already talked about the Utah project, but was working with the Utah Education Network in the past years I worked you Jessica would spearhead this project and I worked under you. And this year I've been able to take on that project all by myself and it's very empowering and getting to work with the people that I interview and talk with and working with the new UEN team and our research team, it has really made me feel accomplished and very proud of the stories that I've put out this year. And it makes me look forward to doing it again in two more years when we do the inventory.
Jessica Denson (35:57):
And just to brag on you for a moment, the external client with that hand that does that, sent a lot of praise your way through our contact saying that you've been doing a great job. So you saw that email as well. So I know that's not a surprise to you. So great job there. And Ashley, what about for you?
Ashley Pino (36:19):
I'm really proud of the work that I have done with the at t projects, the digital literacy projects. But I would probably say my personal biggest victory this past year was the blog that I wrote for Women's History Month. The past two years I've kind of put myself out there and mixed a little bit of my personal life in with what I wrote. And I am really, really proud of last year's work because I think it's relevant. It's something that we as women deal with a lot and not within our team though, because we have the best team and they're supportive and encouraging. But if you get a chance, go to our website and read it because I would say that that's probably my biggest victory this year.
Jessica Denson (36:59):
And you've come along, writing was something you wanted to work on and your writing has gotten really, really fantastic, Ashley, so I applaud you with that. I'm not
Ashley Pino (37:07):
Using AI for that.
Jessica Denson (37:10):
Good. Yeah, I'd kill you. I wouldn't kill you, but I might man you I kid. Audience Grant and for you,
Grant Ahlbrand (37:19):
Yeah, this is a similar answer to Ashley and it's an answer that will make my family very happy because I come from a long line of English teachers and language arts teachers. My favorite work this year was a blog I wrote about telehealth. I always really did enjoy writing and I enjoyed just kind of being creative when you have a simple theme and you can kind of go and expand on it. And I just, Jessica sent me three or four links and she's like, Hey, I'd like us to explore this and maybe write a blog about it. And I went ahead, took a look at the links and read about it. And then I decided to write a blog about it. And I felt when I did, I worked pretty hard on it and I got the messaging across the way I felt like can be communicated to any group of people. So you can just take all the great qualities of telehealth and put it into a blog and the feeling when you write a blog and you feel like it's pretty good and then you get feedback from either your team or just any other people, it's a pretty good feeling. So I'd say the most rewarding thing for me was being able to write and write something well I felt and then get the feedback that I expected.
Jessica Denson (38:39):
And again, I'll brag on my team, Humana, some top people with Humana noticed that blog and sent some notes about really enjoyed it. And that's a big thing. And you did a great graphic with that. So good job. I could just say good job all day to you guys. I love you all. You make me look fantastic. So last question. In your opinion, what are trends and communications and marketing that we and other teams should be looking at and what sets Connected Nations team apart? So I guess it's a two-part question. So Grant, you give it a go first.
Grant Ahlbrand (39:16):
Yeah. I'd say one trend right now that has taken over and is a very sensitive trend for any kind of company to message themselves with is the informal way that organizations and companies communicate on social media. It's very, very hard to do well, but when you can position yourself as either say you're telling a joke or you're being very informal. For example, I remember when we went to New York this summer, Jessica, I think you saw a dog in the airport and you posted it on Twitter. And something like that is so good. I think as an organization to be able to say, yeah, we're going to talk to you about broadband, we're going to talk to you about policy, we're going to talk to you about I EXPs and all kinds of stuff that we're doing, but we're also going to show you that we're human. We're not automated. We're going to sit here and have a conversation with you and share something funny or cool that we saw. And sometimes I can come across as disingenuous if you're trying to force it, but being naturally kind of down to earth and just very familiar with your audience is something that I feel like is a very, can make a very big impact.
Jessica Denson (40:35):
Yeah, I love that. I think our team does a good job with that. And I love dogs and cats. So Ashley, what are your thoughts
Ashley Pino (40:43):
To add to that? I would say being authentic. I think people are opening up more, especially on social media and showing that we as people are messy. We're messy. Our lives are messy, our work is messy. But I think that in the Mess are opportunities. And I think that often what we do is a lot of what we offer here at Connected Nation are ways to clean up those messes, ways to make somebody's life better. And I think that the trend is just being real and authentic and showing that hey, we're not some polished, perfect brand that is trying to sell you some perfect thing. I think just what Grant said, sometimes it's just posting funny things, entertaining. Sometimes it is just meeting people where they are and saying, Hey, we're real too. We're
Jessica Denson (41:32):
Just the same as you. Love it. I love these answers, Lily. You can have the final word, but there's a lot of pressure after those two.
Lily McCoy (41:41):
Oh yeah, mine is a little bit different. But I think a top trend right now as many people have noticed is short form video content like reels. These have been very popular I think since the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 when Covid happened and everybody started posting their Instagram reels and their tiktoks and a lot of marketing tactics and trends, it's a trend will die out. And this has been something that has been not slowed down or stopped at all and has only gotten bigger. So I think that people should keep their eye out for more short form video content and ways to incorporate it into their 2024 communications plans. And lastly, what you think sets our team apart is I think what sets our communications team apart is definitely how close we are and how we work as a team, how we work so well as a team. Even though we are all remote workers and we work across the country, we do meet up once a year to do our strategic planning, our planning, excuse me, and we bond and get to talk about our goals together, which is really motivating. And my favorite part is we get to just have fun and just, we always get to help each other out with no questions asked. So I think that's what really sets us apart.
Jessica Denson (42:58):
That's a perfect place to end it. Thank you, Lily. I just want you each to know I appreciate each of your skills and I hope the audience appreciates that you all are sharing this good advice. I really think it could help other nonprofits or for-profits, I mean you guys keep winning awards. Thank you each for taking part today. I appreciate it.
Lily McCoy (43:18):
Yeah, thank you Jessica. Thanks
Jessica Denson (43:20):
For having us.
Grant Ahlbrand (43:21):
Jessica Denson (43:27):
Again. I've been talking with the award-winning Connected Nation communications team, which is made up of Lily McCoy, who is the senior communications specialist, Ashley Pino, who is the senior marketing specialist, and Grant Allbrand, who's the social media specialist. I lead the team as his communications director. Today's conversation wraps season four of our little broadband podcast, March 20, 24 Marks five years since we launched, and I can't wait to bring you my conversations with exciting new guests in season five. Until then, I'm Jessica Denson and on behalf of all of us at Connected Nation, I'd like to wish you a happy holidays and a wonderful new year.